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The latest concept car from Lexus might be seen as over-the-top with its blunt nose, gull-winged doors and a long, steeply raked windshield that flows directly into its roof — not to mention the accompanying luggage-carrying drone.
However, far from being a chrome fantasy, the LF-30 could very well make it into production in the coming decade, starting with its autonomous driving technology and battery-electric powertrain. But even there, it pushes the technical envelope.
The car’s name carries double meaning, with the “30” referencing both the 30th anniversary of the Lexus brand and the point in time to which it looks ahead. By 2030, the experts contend, the auto industry will go through more dramatic change than we’ve seen in the last half-century or more.
Autonomous driving is one of the biggest transformations in the works, and Lexus parent Toyota plans to show off what it is working on during next year’s Tokyo Olympics, with a series of modified production and concept vehicles that will shuttle around tourists. The LF-30 shows that the vision of the Lexus brand is to allow future motorists to choose whether to let the car take over driving duties or switch back to manual mode.
In self-driving mode, the car’s many screens will give occupants plenty to look at. That includes a roof that can use augmented reality to enhance the night sky.
The other big, ongoing industry shift is electrification. Facing ever stricter government mileage and emissions mandates, automakers are rapidly electrifying their vehicles, using hybrid, plug-in and pure battery-electric powertrains. While Lexus and Toyota have been focusing on conventional gas-electric technology, they’re working on as many as 10 different all-electric models, company officials said during a conference earlier this month, and the LF-30 is just one of several debuting in Tokyo this week.
The LF-30 uses lithium-ion batteries, like potential competitors such as the all-electric Audi e-tron and Jaguar I-Pace. But were Lexus to put a version of the compact SUV into production it just might take a different approach. At next summer’s Olympics, Toyota told NBC News, it will show off another concept vehicle using solid-state batteries.
This breakthrough technology eliminates the slurry of metals and acids in lithium batteries, potentially yielding big improvements in range, cost and charging times, while also reducing the risk of fire.
Toyota Chief Technical Officer Shigeki Terashi said this month that the technology isn’t quite ready for mass production, but added that the goal is to introduce it “as early as possible in the 2020s.”
The LF-30 also breaks ground by going for four individual motors mounted within its wheels, rather than one on each axle. The approach offers several potential advantages, including the ability to shift torque from one wheel to the other, left or right, front or back, increasing control, especially while cornering or coping with slick roads.
There’s also what Lexus refers to as ‘Advanced Posture Control’, which, it explains, “regulates drive power from the high-torque electric motors to adjust vehicle posture in line with human sensibilities.” That would appear to mean the concept can eliminate squat and dive during acceleration and braking.
From a more traditional sense, the four motors combine to give the LF-30 536 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. That, Lexus says, could launch it from 0-100 kmh, or 62 mph, in 3.8 seconds, with a top speed of 200 kmh, or 124 mph.
As for the drone, or as the automaker calls it, the “Lexus Airporter,” it’s designed to take luggage — and, perhaps, your groceries — to or from the vehicle. It’s a more luxurious way to use a drone than what Mercedes-Benz recently showed off, one of its concept vehicles featuring a drone that pops out in the event of an accident to flash a warning sign to oncoming traffic.
While there are no plans to produce the LF-30, Lexus says it will influence future products both in terms of design and technology. In around 2025, the automaker says it plans to offer all of its models with some form of electrified drivetrain technology, whether hybrid, plug-in or pure battery-electric.